“We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy. Everything was very reactive. That’s how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don’t say, ‘What are we going to do with them afterwards?’ “
Former senior US intelligence officer. (Source)
Since 2001, the US has operated a program of rendition, illegal torture and operated a network of secret prisons and CIA “Black Sites”.
Men captured as part of the Bush and Obama administrations’ program were are interrogated, physically & psychologically beaten and denied human rights.
Images of these secret prisons are not common, but I’ve peppered this piece with a few just for the sake of the exercise.
At the top of this article is Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, Romania. It was used for “high-level” detainees from as early as 2005. Beneath is Kiejkuty Stare an illegal CIA prison just 20 miles away from Szymany airport, Poland. (source) It was used as early as 2005 and its function was confirmed in 2007. (source)
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the mastermind of 9/11”, claims he was submitted to waterboarding 183 times over a one-month period. New evidence suggests he was interrogated in Poland. (More from Der Spiegel here and here).
The UK Government provided infrastructural support for America’s extraordinary rendition program allowing rendition flights to refuel on Diego Garcia (above), a British territory in the Indian Ocean. (More here and here).
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Below is the plan of a cell used during the 19 month illegal detention of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni national. Salon reports:
Bashmilah’s story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.
In 2007, Salon did a thorough job in describing his detention and its aftermath, even presenting plans based on Bashmilah’s descriptions of torture and interrogation rooms. No-one knows for certain where these cells were, but it is suspected they were within Afghanistan.
The most notorious Black Site in Afghanistan is referred to as ‘The Salt Pit’.
The Salt Pit brings us to Trevor Paglen‘s geography, photography and investigative academics, but first let me point out a couple more excellent resources.
FRONTLINE produced this astonishing interactive graphic showing all the illegal prisons and all the US aviation front-companies used for the rendition flights. That map is part of a larger presentation with interviews, time-lines and further resources.
More recently, Anand Gopal has revealed the US military’s still recent tactic against the Taliban in Afghanistan of by-night kidnappings. The result? The US has lost the support of the Afghan people toward the American project. Read America’s Secret Afghan Prisons here.
Just this month, Stephen Lendman summarised the January 26th UN Human Rights Council (HRC) report ‘Joint study on global practices in relation to secret detention in the context of countering terrorism’ which details practices by various countries “including America, by far the world’s worst offender in its war on terror.” The full report is here (Word) or here (pdf).
Lendman’s words The truth is shocking:
“Besides Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, HRC said the CIA runs scores of offshore secret prisons in over 66 countries worldwide for dissidents and alleged terrorists – in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Thailand, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere.” (Source)
Onward. Now, Paglen …
The two images below are by Trevor Paglen. The first is the Salt Pit and the second is a military jail in Kabul. They are also his most ordinary of images … the only images he could capture in the circumstances.
Paglen isn’t primarily concerned with prisons; he is concerned with all the unseen activity of the military industrial complex – aviation companies, air strips, covert ops, air bases, Pentagon annual budget projections, spy satellites, shadow NASA reconnaissance agencies … the list goes on.
After meeting Emiliano Granado last Summer, he posted a good one-stop description of Paglen’s work. Granado also posted some good examples of Paglen’s Limit Telephotography and The Other Night Sky series. Check those out and then skip to Paglen’s lecture at the foot of this post.
I have waited for a long time for an online presentation of Paglen’s oeuvre to which I could refer PP readers. (Thanks Alejandro!)
It’s quite the thrill to be brought in on Paglen’s sleuth work, as he walks us through the various public records used to piece together the rendition program. If you can spare an hour this weekend, you’ll be thankful for the education!